The impact of Tommaso Ciampa's injury

March 22, 2019 - 1:30 pm

By Kevin Keenan and Kyle Fisher

One of the newest comers to your screens on Monday and Tuesday nights, Tommaso Ciampa, seemed destined for a huge WrestleMania weekend after being featured on Raw, SmackDown, and NXT as the obsessive NXT Champion and self-proclaimed “Greatest Sports Entertainer of All Time.” He will now have to watch from the sidelines as he recently underwent neck surgery, putting him on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

On Wednesday night’s episode of NXT, HHH kicked off the show with an announcement that changes the entire landscape of NXT and has an effect on WrestleMania and beyond. HHH told the crowd at Full Sail that Tommaso Ciampa underwent neck surgery and would no longer be able to defend the NXT Championship against long-time friend turned bitter rival, Johnny Gargano, at NXT TakeOver: New York. Not only does this affect who is fighting for “Goldie”, as Ciampa liked to call the NXT title, but it is changing a story that has felt much larger than sports entertainment, it felt personal. The story felt real. To fully understand the significance that Ciampa’s injury has, you need to know the history between Ciampa and Gargano that awarded them Rivalry of the Year at NXTs year-end awards for 2018.

Destiny is a word people like to use often and it doesn’t always capture what that word truly means. but Ciampa v Gargano on the biggest stage NXT has to offer felt like exactly that…destiny. For those of you unaware, Ciampa and Gargano first struck magic on WWE programming as a tag team eventually named DIY, mixing it up with the likes of “The Revival”, “TM-61”, and American Alpha (Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) before drawing each other in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic. Gargano would come out the victor, but this did not halt their friendship as they still remained a tag team on NXT television. After putting in classic after classic, they were crowned NXT Tag Team Champions at NXT TakeOver: Toronto, knocking off one of the best tag teams in NXT history, The Revival. You felt their emotion. Yes, they were fan-favorites but also clearly best friends. The team always looked out for each other, taking bullets for one another, and always having each-other’s back.

As it goes in WWE, their friendship could not last forever. One of the most believable friendships presented by WWE in recent memory, crumbled in front of our eyes when Ciampa turned on Gargano after they lost an opportunity to reclaim the tag team gold at NXT TakeOver: Chicago. The energy in the building changed, the crowd stunned. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs when Ciampa drove Gargano into that LED board while the crowd chanted, “DIY, DIY” after saying to Gargano, “this wasn’t our moment, this is my moment.”

This changed the landscape of NXT for almost the next two years. Ciampa ruptured his ACL during that match, leaving Gargano with no teammate or rival, but he found himself on a track that would put him in NXT Championship contention. Ciampa returned to spoil that party right here in Philadelphia, and their destinies would intertwine once more. Ciampa would return again to distract Gargano in a match where he put his career in NXT on the line. Gargano would not forgive, and certainly not forget as he regularly showed up at events and distracted or interfered in Ciampa’s affairs. The General Manager of NXT, William Regal, would have no more of this and let Gargano challenge Ciampa in an unsanctioned match, with the stipulation being Gargano would need to win to return to NXT, which he did. Their back and forth eventually led to a very intense, brutal street fight in the city where their friendship ended, Chicago.

Gargano started to drive himself insane and became a much darker character because Ciampa didn’t just show a will to win, but a will to hurt. He was an unrelenting, “vile creature” as the voice of NXT, Mauro Ranallo, so eloquently puts it. Gargano wanted revenge and swore that anyone was allowed to be NXT Champion except for Ciampa. In a matchup against Aleister Black, Ciampa won due to Gargano interfering but accidently striking Black instead of Ciampa. Black ended up getting injured after getting jumped in a parking lot, leading to Gargano and Ciampa facing off once again, this time for the NXT Championship in a Last Man Standing match. This, again, was an extremely physical, brutal, and destructive match up for a duo that only one-year prior were best friends. Ciampa stood tall and claimed the gold after Gargano, instead of taking the win, decided to try to hurt Ciampa and it back fired.

Things changed when Black, who was not happy with Gargano after it was revealed that Gargano was the one who jumped Black, returned with one thing on his mind: revenge. During a cage match between Gargano and Black to settle their issues, everyone was surprised, even Gargano, when Ciampa interfered to help his long-time rival. Gargano, still not sure how to feel about Ciampa’s help, eventually went on to win the North American Championship. At the end of that night, Ciampa came out, clutching the NXT championship, just for the two rivals holding up their singles titles in unison, showing a united front as two vile men who were now on the same page and were willing to do anything to get what they felt was theirs. They were the faces of NXT, and the gold over the heads proved it.

The two men were called up to the main roster, making their debut on Feb.18, 2019 on Raw and they made a splash right away by defeating their former rivals, The Revival, who are the Raw Tag Team Champions. Now, there is no predicting how WWE intended to use these men on the main roster, but Black and Ricochet were also called up on that same night and put into a team. All 4 men proved to be viable, competitive members of the main roster immediately. One, former tag team champions in NXT in DIY, and the other, two men out to prove themselves. DIY would go on to defeat “The Bar” the next night, another tag team that has held multiple titles on the main roster.

This seems like it would lead to the meteoric rise of two men who made an amazing team, filling our hearts with emotion every week. But, Feb. 19 is the last time Ciampa would wrestle (NXT is taped in advance). It seems Black and Ricochet have slid into the spot that would have been occupied by DIY. Gargano has since wrestled on his own with no clear direction for WrestleMania. Could DIY have competed for tag team gold twice WrestleMania weekend? We may never know.

 In the following weeks on NXT TV, the Dusty Rhodes classic kicked off with both teams entering the tournament. Could knowing that Ciampa needed surgery be the reason that DIY split, and Black & Ricochet are moving on to potentially fight for the NXT Tag Titles at TakeOver: New York? One thing we did get to see was redemption from Gargano after DIY was eliminated from this year’s tournament, when he unexpectedly turned on Ciampa and should have led to them facing off one more time for the NXT Championship on the biggest stage NXT has ever had.

This business is all about the next man up, and for now that man is Adam Cole, who won an opportunity to fill the hole left by Ciampa’s injury. But, if Ciampa has shown us anything in his time in WWE, it is his passion for this business and a drive to come back to action. This man loves his job, just look at his tweet from Wednesday night! I predict “The Greatest Sports Entertainer of All Time” will return and reclaim his place among the best in WWE. But for now, we can only wonder…what if?